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Crime and money power runs deep in India’s new Lok Sabha

The 2024 Lok Sabha election resulted in a significant political shift, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) losing its majority and its coalition forming its weakest government in a decade. However, in one aspect, there was no substantial change for Indian voters.

As many as 250 (46%) of the 542 newly-elected members of Parliament (MPs) had declared criminal cases against them at the time of filing their nominations, data from the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) showed. (Congress’ Rahul Gandhi was elected to two seats, and has been counted once.) Around 31% face ‘serious’ criminal charges. Both figures mark a small increase since the 2019 cohort of MPs.

The BJP had 63 MPs who face serious criminal cases, the highest for any party. But that’s evident given the party’s huge strength in the Parliament. Seen in percentage terms, this was 26% of all BJP MPs. The two biggest parties of the Opposition INDIA bloc—the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP)—had a greater share of party MPs facing serious cases: 33% and 46%, respectively.

Facing a criminal case does not imply criminality or conviction, since politicians often face bogus cases as well. That said, aggregated figures on serious cases do help assess overall link between politics and crime in an elected legislature. ‘Serious’ cases include offences such as murder, attempt to murder, crimes against women.

What follows is based on a Mint analysis of individual-level data sourced from ADR, which compiles the information from each candidate’s nomination affidavit in every election.

Troubled lawmakers

A state-wise analysis further revealed that the new MPs facing criminal cases belong only to 22 of the 36 states and Union territories: there are none from the other 14 (which includes the seven north-eastern states and Uttarakhand among major states). Eleven states witnessed an increase in the number of such Lok Sabha members, while seven saw a decrease.

Odisha was among the states that saw the highest increase in elected MPs facing criminal charges. In 2019, the state sent just six such MPs, while this time, there are 16. This coincides with the BJP gaining ground in the eastern state, and the Biju Janata Dal losing strength. Bihar, with 22 elected Lok Sabha members facing cases, saw the biggest decline from 2019, when it had 35 such MPs.

States such as Kerala (95%) and Telangana (82%) had among the highest shares of parliamentary seats occupied by MPs facing at least one criminal case.

Wealthy victors

Politicians with criminal backgrounds are not the only concern, as there is a simultaneous growing influence of money power in the lawmaking system. A constituency-wise analysis of the assets owned by winners and their immediate opponents (runners-up) showed that a majority, over 54%, of Indian constituencies elected a wealthier candidate. While voters may not choose wealth, past Plain Facts analyses have shown that wealthier candidates have a better shot at winning—possibly because they can mobilize stronger campaigns.

The analysis covered 541 of the 543 seats, and excludes Surat (which had only one candidate) and Indore (where the ‘none of the above’ option was the runner-up).

MPs from as many as 504 out of these 541 seats had assets of 1 crore or more, with 30 of them declaring total assets worth 100 crore or more. Fifteen of these 30 MPs were from the BJP, and three each from Congress and Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

Rich representatives

The median size of the assets of almost all parties’ MPs has increased over the last five years. Among major parties, the MPs of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) continued to have the highest median assets: around 16 crore, up from 13.4 crore in 2019.

The BJP’s MPs saw an increase of 1.6 times in median assets ( 7.4 crore), while those of the Congress increased just 10%, to 8.5 crore. Samajwadi Party MPs had higher median assets than those of the BJP.

Chandra Sekhar Pemmasani of TDP, who won the Guntur parliamentary seat, declared the highest total asset worth of over 5,705 crore, followed by Konda Vishweshwar Reddy of the BJP (Chevella seat), who has assets worth over 4,500 crore. Most candidates declare assets they own together with their spouses.

As India continues to grapple with issues of corruption, criminal politicians and a growing influence of money, the latest 2024 election results serve as a wake-up call for Indian voters.

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